World War Two Heats Up: The M1928A1 Thompson SMG

These two 1928A1 Thompsons (Savage manufacture and Auto-Ordnance manufacture) are being sold by Morphys on October 30, 2018.

By 1939, Auto-Ordnance was thoroughly bankrupt, having about $400 in assets and a debt of more than $1.2 million to the estate of the late Thomas Ryan, it’s original financier. Ryan had died in 1929, but the company shareholders had prevented his estate from forcing the sale of the company for a decade. In 1939 they could hold out no longer, and the company was sold to one Russell Maguire, a high profile corporate raider.

Maguire, however, saw the potential of a submachine gun company on the brink of a new world war, and negotiated a contract with the Savage Arms Company to begin new production of Thompsons (the original Colt guns from 1921 having finally all sold). Orders began to come in from Europe, and new Model of 1928 Thompsons were sold to France, Sweden, and most substantially, the United Kingdom. The US military would also start buying Thompsons in quantity (designated the M1928A1), but the UK orders (paid for in bullion) were a massive source of profits for the company.

Auto-Ordnance would roll some of these profits back into the company, buying an old automotive brake factory in Bridgeport Connecticut and tooling up their own production of receivers and trigger frames to supplement Savage’s production. A number of changes were progressively made to the guns to simplify and speed up their manufacture, including smooth barrels, stamped ejectors, vastly simplified rear sights, and horizontal front grips. By the time the M1928A1 was replaced by the M1 Thompson, more than 1.1 million had been made by AO and Savage combined. The Thompson had at last found it’s purpose!

This is the third of a 5-part series on the development of the Thompson…


  1. “The Thompson had at last found it’s purpose!”
    I would rather said that purpose found Thompson sub-machine gun. Or to be more clear: situation happens in which there is demand for Thompson sub-machine gun
    or any sub-machine gun in quantity and NOW.

    If I am not mistaken, they at the time used Kpist m/37 that is SUOMI sub-machine gun firing 9×20 SR Browning Long cartridge. I am wondering how Swedish soldiers assessed these weapons against each other.

    • So much for “every grunt a perfect shot.” Had the old school Ordnance guys come out on top, the M1 Garand would have a magazine cutoff and the Thompson guns would never see service! And no doubt they would insist on “proper warfare,” where enemies stand still about a mile away and instantly die upon any rifle shot through the appendix. I hope I’m wrong about this assumption…

      • “enemies stand still about a mile away and instantly die upon any rifle shot through the appendix”
        I wouldn’t be so sure, remember military generally is prepared to previous war – in this case I think they might found Thompson useful as “trench broom” i.e. in its original role.

        • Well, Colonel Thompson was a bit late to the party, so nobody knew how his gun would have performed in field conditions. As far as urban warfare and forest skirmishes went, I was under the impression that the top brass would insist on bombarding the danger-ridden forest into nothingness with heavy artillery as opposed to sending in lots of squads armed with M1928’s and STARVING the enemy into submission if he took refuge in town. Anyone who encountered foes disguised as bushes and anyone who had to get into urban brawls begged to differ.

          As for stymied innovations, look up the strained relationship between French railways and André Chapelon. Every time the government railway officials presented a new locomotive, Chapelon would upstage them with a locomotive that outperformed their product to the point where the railway officials allegedly threatened to burn down his workshop if he didn’t stop making them look like idiots!

          • Urban and forest warfare weren’t very big concerns in the tactical doctrines of most European style armies (including the US Army) prior to WW2. While there was some forest combat in France and quite a lot in Africa during WW1, it rarely proved decisive. Large scale urban combat didn’t really happen in WW1 and urban warfare came really into the forefront as a result of Stalingrad and Berlin, and to a lesser degree by fighting in the Ruhr area and other urban centers along the western German borders.

            Forest warfare of course was in an important role in the Pacific early on, although ironically less important during the “Island hopping” campaign, since most of the islands and atolls were too small to have extensive forests. It remained important in Burma, which however was a side show in the war, all things considered.

  2. As the proud owner of a 1928 Thompson I have always been somewhat confused as to the various models of the Thompson. Ian you have finally cleared this up for me and I thank you. You are most informative.

  3. When I went through Special Forces weapons training the M1A1 Thompson was the only weapon I failed to properly disassemble and assemble. It was a bear. Way too heavy. It was as ugly as sin, but I thought the M3A1 grease gun was a better weapon.

  4. Corporate raiders / asset strippers get a bad name.

    They’re actually the people who hunth out resources that are being wasted on uses that society doesn’t value, and profit by returning them to uses that society values more highly.

    There were other much better sub machineguns in the world

    The British armed forces had broken with their backward looking prejudice against SMGs and had looked at the Suomi in the late 1930s

    Unfortunately it was the over weight, over priced, over calibre, and generally crappy Thompson that was available in the right place at the right moment.

    A licence to manufacture the Suomi would have served the allies much better

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